Cellular firms told to discontinue Blackberry enterprise services

Published July 25, 2015
The BES users access internet through a mini-internet that is cut off from the rest of the world.—Reuters/File
The BES users access internet through a mini-internet that is cut off from the rest of the world.—Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: The government has again asked mobile phone operators to discontinue Blackberry enterprise services (BES) in the country by Nov 30.

“Due to serious concerns expressed by security agencies, Mobilink, Ufone and Telenor are requested to give their BES customers 90 days notice for closing their connections by or before Nov 30, 2015,” says a notification issued by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on Friday.

The decision was taken after a meeting of various government departments on July 11.

Citing security reasons, the first notice about discontinuation of Blackberry services was issued about a month ago. But PTA clarified in a statement that other Blackberry services such as messenger and Blackberry internet services (BIS) would continue.

There are 4,000 to 5,000 BES customers in Pakistan.

Officials in the cellular industry said Blackberry phones were a thing of the past and most of their subscribers had switched over to smart phones, but large business enterprises and foreign missions were still using BES.

The BIS customers receive emails or surf web-pages through internet service providers and cellular operators. The BES users access internet through a dedicated server which is a private, internal network within a company and is like a mini-internet that is cut off from the rest of the world. However, the BES subscribers can connect with the internet as well, but with added layers of security.

Both BES and BIS allow Blackberry users to get email and retrieve web-pages. In the case of BIS, the network operates the server. Everything from BIS to Blackberry devices is encrypted, but that’s about the extent of security features.

For BES, the company operates the server and usually has it sitting somewhere within the corporate network. The IT department controls all aspects of the BES server and its likely sitting is secured location.

An official in Ufone said that most of their customers had long ago switched over to smart/android phones, but some large business enterprises as well as foreign missions were still using Blackberry services.

A Mobilink official said the subscriber base of Blackberry had shrunk significantly after smart phones flooded the market.

The foreign missions and large businesses were using Blackberry services because they offered more secure data services which could not be encrypted because of extra layers of security to access information, he added.

Non-governmental organisations criticised the PTA decision to discontinue Blackberry services and said it would badly affect public interest in many ways.

Read more: Surveillance in Pakistan exceeds legal capacity: report

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2015

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